The Value of Adaptiveness in Insurgency Conflicts: The Case of South Africa and SWAPO in the Angolan Bush War, 1966-1989
The scholarly literature on insurgencies and counterinsurgencies provides a myriad of explanations for their success and failure. These explanations include the influence of terrain, public support, military capabilities, ethnic cleavages, and military strategies to name just a few. Missing from many explanations, however, is the back-and-forth interaction between insurgents and counterinsurgents on the battlefield. More specifically, previous research has frequently overlooked the role of adaptiveness and initiative. This thesis contends that ‘adaptiveness’ is an important factor for explaining battlefield success and failure in insurgency conflicts. That is, the ability to efficiently react and adapt faster than the opponent to their changes in battlefield actions is a significant and often times overlooked contribution to success. This thesis examines the Angolan Bush War (1966-1989) as its primary case study. The speed of the belligerents’ tactical and operational adaptiveness to the other’s actions and counter-actions are observed and recorded. This, in turn, is shown to have a significant impact upon which side was considered to be ‘winning’ on the battlefield at different points. The thesis concludes by considering the value of adding the respective adaptiveness of insurgent and counterinsurgent forces to the factors contributing to battlefield success and failure in insurgencies. These conclusions also contain suggestions for the direction of future research and ‘lessons learned’ implications for counterinsurgency practitioners.